Thursday, October 23, 2014

MCFARLAND: Helping our children after violence

By REBECCA MCFARLAND, Reaching Out | 5/15/2013

The events occurring during the past week and a half in western Franklin County have shocked not only the county and state, but the entire nation. It’s difficult to imagine what the friends and family of the victims are dealing with. For those of us who are parents, how do we explain the violence to our children? And how do we manage our own fear and anxiety while we keep fulfilling our responsibility and to protect and nurture them?

There is no way to understand murderous acts, whether they are done to gain political power or out of revenge, in a rage of anger or a manifestation of the failures of a society to identify and help its most troubled members.

The events occurring during the past week and a half in western Franklin County have shocked not only the county and state, but the entire nation. It’s difficult to imagine what the friends and family of the victims are dealing with. For those of us who are parents, how do we explain the violence to our children? And how do we manage our own fear and anxiety while we keep fulfilling our responsibility and to protect and nurture them?

There is no way to understand murderous acts, whether they are done to gain political power or out of revenge, in a rage of anger or a manifestation of the failures of a society to identify and help its most troubled members.

People hurting people simply doesn’t make sense and children’s minds are jammed with upset and hurt feelings when they are exposed to violence of any kind. As mothers and fathers, we must handle these tragic, sad and unwelcome events in ways that hurt our children as little as possible.

Here are some thoughts about caring well for our children and ourselves during difficult times:

First, we need to set aside time to talk with other adults — a spouse, co-workers, friends, etc. — to work through some of our own feelings and reactions at times and places separate from our children. We adults carry a heavy load of feelings about current events no matter how hard we try to tamp down such feelings.

It is important for our children to see that we care about people, about justice in the world and about bringing an end to people harming each other. But they shouldn’t become our sounding board. If you’re upset, go ahead and cry openly, but without a detailed explanation of your feelings. You can say, “I’m sad because something I heard on the news and I just need to cry for a little while to get the sadness out.”

It is not helpful for very young children to know all the details of what has happened. They can’t understand and process violent behavior, and they can become terrified by exposure to the graphic images and feelings of horror and drama that we attach to the details. So, limit their exposure to TV and media.

Speak simply and honestly about the situation. Explain to your children what is happening in their community, but limit the details that will cause them to be overly concerned. Make time to comfort and reassure your children. A one-minute chat throughout the day with a gentle hug or a reassuring word may be all children need to feel safer and more secure in an emotional situation. Because young children sometimes have difficulty understanding complex situations, they can easily exaggerate their normal fear of being separated from their parents.

Maintain routines or rituals of comfort for your children. Dinnertime at the kitchen table, reading a story to them at bedtime or sleeping with a favorite stuffed animal might provide young children with the sense of security they need.

Lastly, seek professional advice if needed. Contact your physician or mental health agency if you are worried about your child showing symptoms that are severe or lasting too long.

Rebecca McFarland is the family and consumer sciences extension agent for Frontier Extension District No. 11, which serves Franklin County. For more information or questions about food safety, call her at (785) 229-3520 or email rmcfarla@ksu.edu

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